I just woke up from a 12 hour death like sleep after returning from one of the most strenuous hikes I’ve ever done. My heels are popping and my legs and back are aching to the point I’m damn near immobile. But I consider these the marks of the best kind of time, that is, overcoming a true challenge. Moreover, I witnessed some awesome country and gained invaluable experience along the way.
I took my dog, Nika, with me so there are, needless to say, lots of pictures with her in them. You can spot her in the one below just up the trail. This is right after we went over Swift Dam. The mountains are both awe-inspiring and a little intimidating. After all, that’s the direction you’re hiking toward.
Nika, who is an otherwise sleepy, mopey indoor dog, really comes to life in the woods and is fun to watch. Here she is taking a soak in a pool moments after trying to intimidate the only large fauna I found on the trail, a cow moose. Standing about 25 feet away from us, it casually sized us up and sauntered back into the woods.
I do realize Nika may be a liability when it comes to bears, especially grizzlies. The problem is she could run after one barking until the bear turns on her and she comes running back to me for protection, which even my bear spray or timeliness firing the handgun I carry may not provide. Regardless, I consider her a net benefit on the trail for the companionship and enjoyment added. Although, I already have a doggy backpack queued in Amazon, because next time she is carrying her own damn food—about 5 to 8 pounds of it!
The most rewarding views are the ones you work for. This was after a difficult 1,000 foot climb.
Here’s another. The northernmost edge of Walling Reef, looking south. .
Having hiked 7 miles since noon and being pretty smoked from the climb, I dropped into the canyon and started setting up camp near a creek. I knew a storm was blowing in too and if I wanted a hot meal I’d have to get moving quick. So, first thing, I found some nice shrubby pine to throw my bed roll under.
Lodging taken care of, I fed Nika, cooked myself up some rice and left over chicken, gobbled that down, hung up my bear bag, and that was about all the time I had. The storm set in. I crawled under that pine, Nika next to me, and there we rode it out, 30 mile per hour winds blowing in and all. At one point lighting struck so low and close that I was temporarily blinded. I wouldn’t say that it was the most restful night sleep I ever had, but I survived.
Early the next morning I woke, had some oatmeal and a wonderful, steaming cup of Folger’s instant coffee, and I prepared to move on, but not before taking a picture of my gear. That’s the Bullpak frame, ALICE attached, and a bedroll, Hudson Bay knife, and rope lashed to the outside. The rope would come in very handy later.
Looking north after climbing out of Sheep Creek Canyon.
Some beautiful trail.
So I mentioned the rope. Here’s why. When I was looking at the route before I left, I worried I might encounter one of the river crossings toward the end, and because of the early season run off, not be able to cross, which would leave me in a real bind. I would have to go all the way back! Well, my intuition paid off. This is Post Creek, I believe. It was narrow but thigh-high, and it roared about 25 yards down, off a waterfall into a gorge. One slip and that was it. No bank for either me or the dog to grab hold of.
The drop off.
So here’s what I did. I leashed Nika to a tree, so she wouldn’t try following me into the river. Then, I took out my rope and secured it to another tree along the bank with a bowline knot-- something I conjured up from the ghost of boy scouts past. I ran the rope’s working end through my Bullpak frame and through my belt. I left the Bullpak sitting on the bank with the dog, and I made my way into the water, holding the rope and balancing myself with the tension.
When I got to the other side of the bank, I pulled the line taut and wrapped it around a tree there until it wouldn’t slip. This finished, I made my way back across the river, again balancing myself with the line. Once back, I unleashed Nika, looped the leash around her chest and snapped it to the rope in front of the Bullpak. Then I shouldered the Bullpak and grabbed the leash and waded back into the river, keeping the dog upstream of my legs. This way water pushed her against me and she was better able to swim.
This picture is after we made it.
I had to cross the river two more times to get my rope back and was soaked from the waist down, but it was worth not dying. Now, somewhere just before these river crossings, I had made up my mind that I was going to march my way out that night, head to this place in Dupuyer before it closed, and order an IPA and a fat steak. This mission became, in my mind, sacred.
But, I soon realized it was not to be. There was no way, with each succeeding crossing, me soaked, nighttime coming on and temps dropping, that I was going to make it. So, I was slightly demoralized, that is, until a great thing happened. God offered up a consolation prize… As I was clomping down the trail with my squishy boots, I found this, an unopened bottle of Glacier Freeze Gatorade, and everything was alright.
Right as the sun dipped beneath the mountains, I made the last crossing across Birch Creek. It was wide and fast and perilous, but I was determined to make it, so I didn’t have to get all wet again in the morning. And I did make it. Then, I quickly got a fire going to dry my boots and cooked more rice and beans. Although, it wasn’t an IPA and steak, it was warm and tasted fine, and it was a nice evening besides. I laid my bedroll out under the stars, popped an Aleve, a sleeping pill, and put earplugs in, and I slept until sunrise. That day, I had hiked over twenty miles.
The final day I hike the remaining three miles. The way there, Nika was buoyant, bouncing ahead of me through meadows filled with wildflowers, chasing after every chipmunk. It was a beautiful, sunny day. When we got to my truck though, I opened the jumper seat door and she curled up behind the passenger seat. I collapsed with my gear in the bed and took a breather. Did I have to push the pace like I did and subject myself to such a rigorous experience? No. I could have started earlier the first day and broken up the miles or made it a three day trip. Or I could have dropped some gear from my 50 plus pound pack (though I mostly used it all). Or I could have trained better during the winter, so I was in better shape. Or I could have not gone all at. But I’m glad I did, and I look forward to the next adventure.